Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Mary's Prayer

May you remember this Christmas the Savior who came to bring you life!

Mary's Prayer
by Max Lucado

God. O infant-God. Heaven's fairest child. Conceived by the union of divine
grace with our disgrace. Sleep well.

Sleep well. Bask in the coolness of this night bright with diamonds. Sleep
well, for the heat of anger simmers nearby. Enjoy the silence of the crib,
for the noise of confusion rumbles in your future. Savor the sweet safety of
my arms, for a day is soon coming when I cannot protect you.

Rest well, tiny hands. For though you belong to a king, you will touch no
satin, own no gold. You will grasp no pen, guide no brush. No, your tiny
hands are reserved for works more precious: to touch a leper's open wound, to
wipe a widow's weary tear, to claw the ground of Gethsemane.

Your hands, so tiny, so tender, so white--clutched tonight in an infant's
fist. They aren't destined to hold a scepter nor wave from a palace balcony.
They are reserved instead for a Roman spike that will staple them to a Roman cross.

Sleep deeply, tiny eyes. Sleep while you can. For soon the blurriness will
clear and you will see the mess we have made of your world. You will see our
nakedness, for we cannot hide. You will see our selfishness, for we cannot
give. You will see our pain, for we cannot heal. O eyes that will see hell's
darkest pit and witness her ugly prince...sleep, please sleep; sleep while you can.

And tiny feet cupped in the palm of my hand, rest. For many difficult steps
lie ahead for you. Do you taste the dust of the trails you will travel? Do
you feel the cold sea water upon which you will walk? Do you wrench at the
invasion of the nail you will bear? Do you fear the steep descent down the
spiral staircase into Satan's domain? Rest, tiny feet. Rest today so that
tomorrow you might walk with power. Rest. For millions will follow in your steps.

And little heart...holy heart...pumping the blood of life through the
universe: How many times will we break you? You'll be torn by the thorns of
our accusations. You'll be ravaged by the cancer of our sin. You'll be
crushed under the weight of your own sorrow. And you'll be pierced by the
spear of our rejection.

Yet in that piercing, in that ultimate ripping of muscle and membrane, in that
final rush of blood and water, you will find rest. Your hands will be freed,
your eyes will see justice, your lips will smile, and your feet will carry you home.

And there you'll rest again--this time in the embrace of your Father.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Where Is My Heart?

For my personal daily Bible reading, I've been in Psalms lately.  Today I read Psalm 50 and certain parts of it struck me.  God is approaching Israel as judge in the psalm.  He starts out by addressing their sacrifices:

"Listen my people! I am speaking!
Listen Israel! I am accusing you!
I am God, your God!
I am not condemning you because of your sacrifices,
or because of your burnt sacrifices that you continually offer me.
I do not need to take a bull from your household
or goats from your sheepfolds,
For every wild animal in the forest belongs to me,
as well as the cattle that graze on a thousand hills.
I keep track of every bird in the hills,
and the insects of the field are mine.
Even if I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and all it contains belong to me.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls?
Do I drink the blood of goats?" (v.7-13)

It is interesting that God starts by saying he isn't taking them to task for their animal sacrifices.  The people were offering them "continually."  The irony is that God doesn't even need the sacrifices.  He already owns everything so they are just giving him back what he already possesses.  But didn't God command animal sacrifice?  Yes.  So what is the problem here?  We find out later in the psalm:

 "God says this to the evildoer: 
'How can you declare my commands,
and talk about my covenant?
For you hate instruction
and reject my words.
When you see a thief, you join him;
you associate with men who are unfaithful to their wives.
You do damage with words,
and use your tongue to deceive.
You plot against your brother;
you slander your own brother.'" (v.16-20)

The people may have been giving the animal sacrifices, but they did so superficially.  They were "getting in good" with God and then running off to sin.  They didn't sacrifice with contrite hearts with any intention of actually obeying God.  I have noted before that God cares about our hearts.  God says in Isaiah 29:13, "[T]his people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote..."  The people were giving the sacrifice by tradition, but their hearts were not near the Lord.  God makes it clear in the psalm what he wants of his people:

"Present to God a thank-offering!
Repay your vows to the sovereign One!
Pray to me when you are in trouble!
I will deliver you, and you will honor me!" (v.14-15)

"Whoever presents a thank-offering honors me.
To whoever obeys my commands, I will reveal my power to deliver." (v.23)

A thank offering was freely given, an optional sacrifice.  It consisted of not just an animal offering, but a meal, symbol of fellowship with God.  It was given to express gratitude to God for the blessings he had brought.  In effect, God is telling his people in this psalm to celebrate fellowship with him and thank him for his blessings and to truly do these things, one must have a heart turned to the Lord.  God asks not for the superficial motions of sacrifice, but a heart that thanks him, keeps its promises, prays to him and obeys him.

How can this apply in a modern context?  I think the parallels are easy to see.  Do we go through the motions of tradition, going to church, singing songs, listening to a sermon with a dead heart?  This is a psalm that calls us to examine our heart attitudes to determine if we are truly worshipping our God.  I do not see here that God is demanding perfection.  He is desiring a heart turned to him that recognizes his grace.  This kind of heart will fellowship with God, enjoying his presence.  A heart thus cultivated doesn't view worship of God as something to get out of the way so I can go sin.  I think the key in this psalm is to ask the question: What is the state of my own heart?